Configuring application for the cloud
Migrating a major production application to the public cloud wasn't without its challenges, however.
Wolfe explained: "AWS is a fantastic platform, but when you couple that with an application that wasn't engineered for cloud you start to have some interesting challenges. It was really hard work. It took a lot of support from Oracle and from AWS to be able to configure ATG to scale for our business in the cloud."
The company has a number of other systems in the cloud already. This ranges from Amazon S3 storage to Microsoft Office 365 and Sharepoint tools, as well as onsite search and navigation platform Endeca, and WebLogic middleware, which sits in the cloud to support back-end integration with the ecommerce platform.
However, the public cloud is not seen as a panacea, said Wolfe, and there are no plans for a wholesale move of its core applications in the near future. Decisions will be made on an application by application basis where there is a clear benefit, with customer-facing systems making the most sense for the business, he said.
"It is not a 'cloud for clouds sake' decision, everything else lends itself well to fixed infrastructure," he told ComputerworldUK.
"We have over 80 applications which support our business, and some of those applications won't suit being moved to the cloud."
Next section: Improving user experience
Improving user experience
AWS is also being used for dev and test purposes, helping to drive user experience differentiation across the various retail sites.
Previously the company had "lots of constraints" with its dev and test environments, which had slowed its ability to innovate and react to customer preferences.
"If you are going to differentiate as a retailer you have to be able to develop very quickly," he said.
"We run about 35 experiments every month on the look and feel of the site, navigation, how we present content to customers, and we are looking to extend that. We couldn't do that if we didn't have the infrastructure to allow us to scale."
Data analytics and social media analysis
Shop Direct now expects to expand its use of public cloud resources to enable additional functionality for its data analytics capabilities. This will involve utilising the scalability of the cloud and tools such as AWS' Hadoop service Amazon Elastic MapReduce to gain more insight into customer behaviour.
"Fundamentally the cloud gives the ability to take in more data, and with in-memory computing it allows us to process large volumes of information and work out new insights that we can apply our algorithms to, helping us provide a more relevant personal experience to our customers," he added.
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